The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state in a long-running eminent domain dispute with a developer who was trying to build a shopping center on Highway 95 north of Coeur d’Alene – and has even ordered the developer to pay some of the state’s legal fees in the battle. Justice Jim Jones wrote that in his view, the developer was “shooting for the moon” and seeking much more for 16 acres of its property that the state took for a new interchange than the land was worth. He and the rest of the court’s justices ruled that the appeal was “completely unreasonable and frivolous,” and therefore was one of the rare cases when a private party could be ordered to pay the state’s attorney fees in a condemnation case.
H.J. Grathol Co. had been trying to build a travel center, grocery store and hotel at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 95 and Highway 54, when the Idaho Transportation Department took a chunk of its property for a new interchange through condemnation in 2010, as part of the Garwood to Sagle project to widen and improve Highway 95 from a surface road into a freeway. The state hired a private law firm, Holland and Hart, to represent it in the condemnation case, and ran up legal fees and costs of more than $1 million before the appeal to the state Supreme Court. Grathol lost at the District Court level, and the court declined to charge the firm for the state’s attorney fees, saying the firm’s arguments were “reasonably based in law and fact” and the case was not brought “frivolously.” The district court did, however, order Grathol to pay more than $25,000 of the state’s court costs.
Now, on appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court has determined that this is one of those “extreme and unlikely” cases where a private party should be ordered to pay the state’s legal fees, at least for the appeal portion of the case. The irony there: The state only paid H.J. Grathol $675,000 for the 16 acres it took. Depending on how much Holland and Hart charges the state for the appeal, the fee award could eat up some or all of that, and leave the developer actually out both money and land to the state. Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com.